It has been three years since I took office. Over these past three years, I have administered state affairs with the aspirations of the candlelight protesters in my heart. I’ve walked on the path toward fairness and justice, innovation and inclusiveness, and peace and prosperity. Every single day, I have felt like I am walking on thin ice. There have been many difficult moments, but whenever these have come, people have inspired and encouraged me. I am profoundly grateful to the people for sending unwavering support.
For the remaining two years, I will work on state affairs with even firmer determination. Until the moment I complete my term, I will, with a strong sense of responsibility, do everything possible to fulfill the duty that the people and history have entrusted to me.
We are now standing at the center of rapid global changes. An invisible virus is transforming the world in its entirety. It is fundamentally changing our daily lives and pushing the world economy into an unprecedented crisis. It is also bringing about enormous changes not only in the socioeconomic structures of nations but also in the international order.
We cannot avoid these changes, even though we want to. There is no option but to tackle them head on and break through. There is a saying, “Heaven never helps the men who will not act.” We will overcome crises with extraordinary commitment and courage.
Taking it a step further, we will turn crises into opportunities. Opportunities go to the ones who seek them and the ones who take on challenges. We will join the people to wisely find our way and boldly face challenges. We will take the current crisis as a driving force for new opportunities and development. Our goal goes beyond “a global Republic of Korea.” Our goal is “a Republic of Korea that takes the lead in the world.” That is the new Republic of Korea to which we’ve aspired.
We have already become a country leading the world in infectious disease prevention and control. Korea’s COVID-19 response has become a global standard. The national status of the Republic of Korea and the people’s pride are higher than ever. All of this has been driven by the dedication of infectious disease prevention and control authorities and medical professionals, the willing participation of countless volunteers and the people who have demonstrated to the fullest a spirit of solidarity and cooperation.
We have firmly defended the infectious disease prevention and control frontlines based on the strength of our people and have been winning the war against the virus. With our COVID-19 situation entering the stabilization phase, we have now transitioned to a new normal in which safety precautions against the virus and daily lives can be simultaneously maintained.
However, it doesn’t mean that we are back to the time before the COVID-19 outbreak. The infection cluster which recently occurred in entertainment facilities has raised awareness that, even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can arise again anytime, anywhere in an enclosed, crowded space. It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding infectious disease prevention and control. Nevertheless, there's no reason to stand still out of fear. If we do not let our guard down, our infectious disease prevention and control system can fully control and manage the spread of the virus. We have the right infectious disease prevention and control and medical systems combined with experience to respond quickly to any unexpected infection clusters that might occur.
It will be a long time before the COVID-19 outbreak has ended completely. We should also brace for the pandemic’s second wave, which many experts are predicting. However, we cannot afford to keep waiting until then to return to normal daily lives. Although combating the virus is the starting point for economic recovery, it will not be nearly enough to resolve the issues surrounding people’s livelihoods.
The Government will meticulously handle the COVID-19 situation, keeping in mind that we are in a prolonged war. I ask everyone to comply with safety precautions and rules until the situation is over even after resuming daily lives. I hope all of us will join together to succeed in meeting this new challenge of maintaining virus safety precautions amid our daily routines. If our people exert their full capabilities once more, I am convinced that our transition to normal daily lives will also become a model for the world to emulate.
We have already reaffirmed that our infectious disease prevention and control and healthcare systems are among the best in the world. This is the result of having developed response systems that draw on our experiences from the SARS and MERS outbreaks. We will reinforce our infectious disease prevention and control system further to become the undisputed “No.1” epidemic response country leading the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be upgraded to the Disease Control and Prevention Administration to strengthen its expertise and independence. It will be staffed with more professionals, and a local epidemic response system will be established to make up for any insufficient provincial capabilities. With the National Assembly’s approval, we will establish a system for two vice ministers within the Ministry of Health and Welfare. We will also push to establish hospitals specialized in treating infectious diseases and a national infectious disease research center. In addition, we will significantly enhance our public healthcare system and ability to respond to infectious diseases to build a safer Republic of Korea. These tasks are very urgent if we are to prepare for the second epidemic wave that experts predict will hit this fall or winter. I ask for the National Assembly’s swift cooperation.
It is the economy that matters. This current economic crisis is being compared to the Great Depression 100 years ago.
The world economy has ground to a halt. Factories have stopped producing, and the number of jobless people is rapidly increasing. As borders are closed and exchanges are blocked, global supply chains are disintegrating and trade is declining sharply worldwide. Countries are facing the worst negative growth rates since the Great Depression. We are in a situation with no bottom and no end in sight.
The damage to our economy is indeed colossal as well. As exports plunged in April, our trade recorded a deficit for the first time in 99 months. The service industry contraction, which began in tourism and travel and dining and lodging, is expanding into a manufacturing industry crisis.
As even our key industries and flagship businesses, which have remained relatively strong, are facing increasing difficulties, more and more of these businesses are urgently requesting financial support. The employment shock is also growing as time passes. Unemployment fears are spreading beyond self-employed small business owners, non-permanent workers and day laborers to affect almost all employees, including full-time employees and those at mid-market companies and large businesses. This is undeniably an “economic wartime situation.”
I’d like to give my deepest consolation to the people who are enduring this difficult situation. The Government will concentrate all of its capabilities on overcoming the economic crisis. We will take the hands of those on the edge of a precipice. We will serve as a buttress safeguarding the lives and jobs of the people. As an unconventional and expedited emergency prescription, the Government has injected 245 trillion won – more than 10 percent of the nation’s GDP – into support for businesses and employment measures. The Government is now preparing the third supplementary budget following the first and second. We will resolutely brace for any bigger shocks ahead. The Government will utilize all available resources and policies.
We will use our relatively rapid stabilization of the COVID-19 outbreak and the transition to a new normal as a turning point for enhancing economic vitality. We will move up the timetable for boosting consumption and recovering tourism as well as redouble our efforts to promote investment. We will provide enhanced support to help the manufacturing industry regain vitality and promptly implement measures to shore up contracted local economies.
I hope the people, as the principal economic players, will also actively engage in consumption and economic activities while complying with infectious disease prevention and control guidelines and rules. Like our efforts to combat the virus, overcoming the economic crisis can be successful if the people pull together. I believe in our people who have in their DNA the ability to overcome a crisis. The Government, along with the people, will also set an example for the world with how we overcome this economic crisis.
The post-COVID-19 global economic order is by no means a rosy picture. We have vividly witnessed how fragile the international community’s solidarity and cooperation is in the face of this virus.
The reality is grave, indeed. Nationalism driven by the pursuit of one country’s own survival may expand further. The division of labor in the era of globalization, which has been driving economic development worldwide to date, is under threat. It is also a very serious challenge to our economy, which has grown through openness and cooperation.
If we fail to turn this crisis into an opportunity, we cannot survive. It’s a desperate time; we must prepare for the future in a preemptive manner.
For the remainder of my term in office, I will do my best to turn crises into opportunities while fully devoting myself to overcoming this national crisis along with the people. I will strive to pave the way for the Republic of Korea to take the lead globally.
First, we will blaze a trail in the post-COVID-19 era with a pace-setting economy. Our country has excellent infrastructure and is ranked “No.1” worldwide for competitive edge in the ICT sector. Our competitiveness and potential in the bio industry have been reaffirmed. We have strengths in post-COVID-19-related industries such as non-face-to-face medical services, online education and transactions, infectious disease prevention and control and the bio industry. We have ample capabilities to lead the digital economy by combining Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data.
We will work to help the Republic of Korea emerge as a globally leading “digital powerhouse” with innovative business ventures and startups serving as the main driving force. We will create future growth engines by fostering three new growth industries – system semiconductors, biohealth and future cars – more vigorously.
The Republic of Korea has become the safest and most transparent production base in the world. Countries around the world have now begun to prefer innovative capabilities and safe investment destinations to cheap labor. This presents a golden opportunity for us. We will push ahead with bold strategies to attract high-tech industries and investments from overseas as well as to help Korean companies return from abroad. The Republic of Korea will become a “world factory of high-tech industries,” thereby changing the global industrial map.
Second, we will further improve our employment safety net by significantly expanding the application of employment insurance and implementing an employment support program. We will keep the lives of all our people safe from unemployment and threats to their livelihoods.
In history, human beings have expanded welfare and strengthened safety nets in times of crisis. The United States laid the foundation for its social security system while going through the Great Depression, and our country introduced a national basic living security system earlier than planned while striving to overcome the 1997 foreign exchange crisis. The current COVID-19 crisis calls for further strengthening our still-vulnerable employment safety net.
The Government will establish the cornerstone for an era of universal employment insurance which will benefit everyone employed. We will push to allow low-wage, non-permanent workers who are presently not covered to sign up for the insurance as soon as possible. We will work to quickly bring employment insurance to those currently not-covered – the self-employed contract workers, platform workers, freelancers and artists, among others. Through a social agreement, we will also gradually expand the eligibility for the insurance to cover all of the self-employed.
Expanding the employment safety net is an essential task to bolster our economy’s dynamism as well. The laws and system will be overhauled to broaden the range of eligible employment insurance subscribers step by step. The National Assembly’s understanding and cooperation are very important. I ask the Assembly to support this through legislation.
Moreover, the employment support program – a Korean-style unemployment allowance – will be implemented as quickly as possible. The program will provide job training and other customized employment support to low-income households, young adults and self-employed small business owners and offer jobseekers stipends to facilitate employment and other types of income. If employment insurance is the primary employment safety net, the employment support program is a secondary one. It is an essential employment safety net for jobseekers and those who have been unemployed for a long time. A legislative bill has already been submitted to the National Assembly following an agreement at the Economic, Social and Labor Council. I urge the National Assembly to pass it as soon as possible.
Third, we will push ahead with a Korean version of the New Deal as a national project to create jobs. The Government will present new opportunities for the people by creating new jobs.
The Korean version of the New Deal is a preemptive investment for the future, designed to establish digital infrastructure. The early establishment of 5G infrastructure and the building of infrastructure to collect, accumulate and use data will be pursued as national projects. Non-face-to-face industries related to medical services, education and retail distribution will be intensively fostered. The large-scale job creation project will be actively pursued: Cities and industrial complexes, roads and transportation networks, and aging national infrastructure will be combined with artificial intelligence and digital technology in order to make them smart. We will harmonize the process to fully uphold the important value of not only protecting personal information but also securing a public service role for medical services and education.
The Government will expand public investment and strengthen private sector cooperation to create new jobs. In addition to overcoming the crisis, we will put in place a foothold to help our economy transition into that of a pace-setter. We will actively generate new quality jobs through bold and creative planning and fast and decisive implementation.
Fourth, we will lead an international order of solidarity and cooperation that prioritizes people’s lives and safety. The creative methods and principles of openness, transparency and democracy that we have shown in our efforts to combat the virus have become a world-class success model. Our society has created this together as a whole. Actions like volunteering and donating combined with the spirit of solidarity and cooperation have established the Republic of Korea’s national status and become a source of international leadership.
A favorable assessment by the international community has significantly expanded Korea’s diplomatic horizon. Our country now stands at the center of international cooperation, and the Republic of Korea’s status on multilateral stages such as G20 and ASEAN Plus Three has risen beyond recognition.
We will make the most of this opportunity. Building upon successful infectious disease prevention and control efforts, we will lead international cooperation in the post-COVID-19 era while placing “human security” at the center. The concept of security today has expanded from conventional military security to human security that deals with all factors threatening safety such as disasters, diseases and environmental issues. We can cope with these only when all countries pull together through solidarity and cooperation. We will play a leading role so that Northeast Asia, ASEAN and the rest of the world can move forward toward the common goal of human security through solidarity and cooperation. I hope that South and North Korea will move toward a single community of life and a peace community by cooperating on human security.
Our people have begun to rediscover the Republic of Korea while fighting an arduous war against a virus. We’ve started saying that we are already an advanced country. Countries that we wanted to follow have started learning from us. We have set a standard and become a world-class nation. People have now begun to talk about the Republic of Korea’s greatness.
It is a greatness that the people themselves have created. We have made concessions, showed consideration, banded together and cooperated. We have become stronger in this time of crisis. The people have been great. I am very proud of all of our people.
The crisis is not over yet, and an even bigger challenge remains. The Government will have an even more tremendous sense of responsibility. We will become the nation that surmounts this crisis the fastest. We will become an example and a leader for the world. We will stand tall in the world as a new Republic of Korea. Throughout the remainder of my term, I will move forward fearlessly together with our great people.